OSWEGO — The nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been slower than expected, and though vaccination efforts are underway in Oswego County, officials are asking the community to be patient.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the state's first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine late last year, along with the state's plan to vaccinate high-priority individuals before moving on to the general public. Locally, Oswego Health started vaccinating hospital staff and other high-priority individuals in late December and the Oswego County Health Department ran its first vaccination clinics this week. Officials caution the supply of the vaccine is scarce and it could be months before the general population is eligible.
More than 1,000 individuals in Oswego County have been vaccinated, but all are part of the highest priority populations under the state's vaccination plan, which include health care workers, nursing home staff and residents and emergency and medical response personnel among others.
Oswego Hospital was one of only a few health care facilities in the state able to use all of its provided vaccine. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Duane Tull said as of Jan. 6 the non-profit had successfully administered 100 percent of its allotted vaccine doses, and expressed pride in Oswego Health's ability to quickly assemble its clinic at the hospital.
"To date, we have vaccinated 1,159 individuals," Tull said. "Following state guidelines, 57 percent of those were allocated to our healthcare workers, with the remaining for EMS, firefighters and community providers."
Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said the county's first vaccination clinic, which was a trial run that administered 77 doses of the vaccine, was successful and officials were able to utilize all of the available vaccine.
"We gained a lot of experience and we found how to expand our operation when more vaccine comes," Huang said, noting the population receiving the vaccine was similar to that served by the earlier Oswego Health clinics, including emergency and public health workers qualified under the state's priority schedule.
Most vaccine clinics regularly run by the county are considered drive-through clinics, and patients are innoculated and on their way quickly, Huang said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, is recommending individuals receiving the COVID-19 vaccines be monitored for at least 15 minutes after receiving the shot, which Huang said presents an added challenge for county health officials.
Huang said the first clinic ran smoothly, however, and officials are looking to expand as more vaccine become available.
The county is slated to hold another clinic over the weekend, but that clinic is also aimed at serving high-priority individuals. County officials are reaching out to local employers in the health care and first responder fields to schedule vaccinations, and the clinics are not yet open to the public.
Huang said as the county moves on to vaccinating the general public in the coming months, officials will likely be looking to other health care agencies and retired doctors and nurses for help in coordinating and administering the vaccine.
Public health officials do not know when the next shipment of vaccines might come in, or how many individual doses might be available in that shipment should it come, Huang said, calling it “the frustrating part” of the vaccination effort.
Tull also noted Oswego Health does not currently have additional COVID-19 vaccine and has not been advised by the state when more doses might be delivered. He said the non-profit is, however, in communication with state and local health departments in an effort to expand vaccination in the community.
Cuomo on Friday also expressed frustration at the rate in which the vaccine is currently being distributed, and said the distribution must be accellerated. Cuomo noted at a rate of 300,000 vaccination a week, which is higher than any of the four weeks so far, it would take roughly 47 weeks to vaccinate the minimum number of people needed to reach herd immunity in New York.
According to the state, more than 600 vaccination locations have been activated and have the ability to provide vaccines to eligible New Yorkers. State officials said more than 900,000 vaccines were expected to be distributed to providers by the end of the week.